What is Shoulder Impingement?

What is shoulder impingement?

Last Updated on April 4, 2024

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Shoulder Impingement is when the tendons of the rotator cuff become overused and injured.  The subsequent pain and swelling reduce the shoulder mobility leading to shoulder impingement.

The tendons of the rotator cuff slide between the clavicle and the humerus in the shoulder joint. When the tendons are inflamed or damaged this slide is no longer smooth and the friction causes pain and compression of the tendon leading to pain.


While the rotator cuff muscles are involved in moving the arm, they are also essential to stabilizing the top of the humerous in the joint socket during activity. If these muscles become weak the humerous can drift out and put the tendons in a compromised position. Imbalance between the strength of the chest and the strength of the upper back can also lead to the shoulder being poorly aligned in the joint socket. This again leads to extra wear and tear on the tendon.

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At Inner Gate Acupuncture your acupuncturist will perform a full evaluation of your body and of the shoulder joint.  Properly identifying the main causes of the shoulder impingement, we determine the best course of treatment. Treatment focuses on calming the inflamed tissue, creating space for proper tendon glide and rebalancing the shoulder, back and chest muscles.  Acupuncture can relieve shortened muscle, active weak muscles and relieve inflammation locally. Manual therapy, cupping and tuina massage are often also used to deepen and improved the treatment.

Other Treatments for Shoulder Impingement 

While acupuncture can be great for shoulder impingement, there are other treatment options available. These include:

Massage Therapy 

Massage therapy is a form of hands-on therapy that focuses on using pressure and movement to relieve tension in the shoulders and throughout the body. 

When seeking help for shoulder impingement, you’ll want to visit a therapist who is experienced in medical-massage. Medical massage differs from a spa massage, as it focuses on resolving specific problems, while a spa massage focuses on relaxation.

In addition to addressing shoulder impingement, a medical massage can also address muscle spasms, range of motion limitations, and pain throughout the body. Like a regular spa massage, this is all conducted in a calming atmosphere. So while relaxation isn’t the primary goal of a medical massage, you’ll likely find yourself less stressed out by the end of your appointment. 

To treat shoulder impingement, your medical massage therapist may use several techniques, including:

  • Cupping: This is a form of alternative medicine that involves placing special cups on the body for a few minutes to create suction. This will expand the blood vessels and allow blood to better flow throughout the body. 
  • Trigger point therapy: This treatment technique involves manipulating specific points on the muscle. Your massage therapist may also perform dry needling, which is a type of trigger point therapy. 
  • Deep tissue massage: This involves applying firm pressure to the body using slow strokes. 
  • Cross-fiber massage: This is also known as a transverse friction massage. For this technique, your massage therapist will move a braced finger or thumb across the grain of your muscle, ligament, or tendon. 
  • Stretching: Your massage therapist may use a variety of stretching techniques to relieve pain from your shoulder. 
  • Neuromuscular facilitation: This technique involves applying resistance to muscle contraction to enhance the muscle’s contractile force. 

After assessing your shoulder injury, your massage therapist will create a treatment plan that’s right for you. 

Related Blog: Can Acupuncture Heal Damaged Ligaments?


Girl doing yoga for shoulder impingement

Yoga can also be very helpful for shoulder impingement. Some of the best yoga poses for shoulder impingement include:

  • Crossbody shoulder stretch
  • Seated forward bend
  • Two-footed pose
  • Warrior 2 pose
  • Standing forward bend pose
  • Cat/cow pose
  • Melting heart pose
  • Hand clasped behind the back
  • Sphinx pose

We recommend working with a yoga instructor to ensure you’re performing each pose correctly. 

FAQs About Shoulder Impingement

So, what else do you need to know about shoulder impingement? Here are some answers to some frequently asked questions:

What Causes Shoulder Impingement? 

Shoulder impingement occurs when there’s an impingement of the bursa or tendons in the shoulder. Repeated, overhead activity often leads to shoulder impingement. So, if you work a job that involves a lot of repetitive motion, such as construction, you may be more likely to develop an impingement. 

Those who participate in sports such as swimming, tennis, volleyball, and baseball are also more likely to suffer from shoulder impingement. 

What are the Symptoms of Shoulder Impingement? 

Typical symptoms of shoulder impingement include:

  • Pain with overhead use of the arm
  • Difficulty reaching behind the back
  • Pain when lifting or lowering your arm
  • Pain or achiness at night, which can affect your ability to fall asleep
  • Weakness or stiffness in the shoulder or arms

Symptoms tend to develop gradually over weeks or months. 

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How is Shoulder Impingement Diagnosed? 

To diagnose shoulder impingement, your doctor will take your medical history and perform a physical exam. During the physical exam, they’ll check for pain and tenderness. Your doctor will also assess your range of motion in your shoulder, and they’ll ask you if you participate in activities that require repetitive motion. 

Your doctor may also order an X-ray to rule out arthritis or a rotator cuff injury. 

Can You Get Surgery for Shoulder Impingement? 

Surgery is the last line of treatment for shoulder impingement. First, your doctor will recommend the treatment options above. If these don’t work, then they may recommend arthroscopic shoulder decompression surgery. This surgery removes part of the acromion to create more space for the rotator cuff. 

Shoulder Impingement: Conclusion

Shoulder impingement

If you believe you’re suffering from shoulder impingement, schedule an appointment with your doctor. After you’ve been diagnosed, it’s time to move onto treatment. 

If you’re looking for an acupuncturist, massage therapist, or some other type of medical professional to treat your shoulder impingement in the Portland area, contact us today

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